David Perno is savvy enough to know not to publicly discuss the significantly easier Southeastern Conference schedule that awaits his Georgia team after this weekend’s series against No. 4 Florida.
It’s too early for that discussion.
Georgia’s baseball coach knows his Bulldogs must keep their focus on the rival Gators if they’re to come away from this three-game series with a win – and they’ve already lost one opportunity after Friday’s 5-4 defeat at Foley Field.
"You’re right in the middle of a series where you’ve gotta find a way to get something good (today)," Perno said. "I mean, you don’t really look ahead too much in our league, especially when you’ve dropped a Friday night game.
"You’re trying to survive, so I haven’t really sat back and thought about it. (But) I’ve got an idea," he added, flashing a knowing grin. "I know what our next month looks like, so yeah, you want to look ahead, but you want to get one under your belt before you can do that."
Even if he wouldn’t come out and bluntly say it after Friday’s loss, Perno certainly knows his team can post a stellar record in conference play if they keep playing as competitively as they have since SEC competition started.
The Bulldogs played a ridiculously front-loaded non-conference schedule and then jumped into SEC play with consecutive series against defending national champion South Carolina and six-time national champ LSU.
And yet they’ve posted an 8-5 record in SEC games thus far – 9-5 if you include a "non-conference" win over No. 24 Alabama at the Gwinnett Braves’ Coolray Field. This against competition – South Carolina, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Florida – that owned a .533 winning percentage (32-28) entering Friday’s games.
Even with a season-ending series against top-ranked Vanderbilt still ahead, the level of difficulty drops off significantly after this weekend for Georgia. Vanderbilt, in fact, is the only team left on the SEC schedule that carried a winning league mark into Friday’s games.
The SEC teams Georgia has left to play – Tennessee, Arkansas, Auburn, Kentucky and Vandy – have a combined .403 league winning percentage (25-37). Tennessee and Kentucky each had only two league wins and were tied for the fewest in the conference.
At this point, it’s a question of the degree of momentum Georgia carries into the second half of the league schedule – and that’s why the next two days at Foley Field are important. It wasn’t long ago that Georgia posted a confidence-shattering 5-23 league record in 2010.
They’ve already bettered that win total at the midway point and have every reason to believe they’ll return to the SEC Tournament this season – particularly if they garner a win or two this weekend.
Either way, Perno is pleased with the way his club has rebounded in a season that already included a seven-game winning streak and three consecutive SEC series wins.
"Regardless of what happens this weekend, we’re in good shape. We won five SEC games last year, so I’m not too caught up in wherever we are," Perno said. "We’ve got time. We proved that we can put a streak together and win a bunch of games in a row, so once you do it once, you know you can do it again. We’ve just gotta keep playing good baseball."
After last season, it was natural to wonder whether Georgia was capable of playing good baseball in 2011. By no means are the Bulldogs back to the form that helped them come within an eyelash of the 2008 national title – this reclamation project is still a game-by-game process – but they’ve made huge strides in a relatively short period of time.
A win or two against Florida this weekend would confirm that progress, and it would put Georgia back on track for a postseason appearance just a year after the worst showing in school history.
• David Ching is sports editor for the Banner-Herald. Phone: 706-208-2239 E-mail: email@example.com.